Doug Dix, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology and Medical Technology
Department of Health Science
University of Hartford
West Hartford, CT 06117
The food bank CEO was grateful. Last minute donations had “ensured that all of our neighbors in greater Hartford will have a traditional Thanksgiving feast” (1). As one donor put it, “there’s no greater sadness than having neighbors go hungry.” An army of well-meaning volunteers empowered the food bank to prevent that sadness by distributing 19,000 turkeys. The volunteers didn’t realize or care that some of the recipients weren’t hungry, or that mass-produced turkeys are an ethical and ecological nightmare. Organic turkeys were too expensive to distribute, and the well-meaning volunteers needed to distribute turkeys. That’s the problem in a nutshell. People with the best intentions tend to ignore consequences beyond their focus.
Organic aficionados enjoy their $150 turkeys while ignoring the fact that most people can’t afford them (2). And many can’t afford anything at all. Half of all people live on $2.50/day or less (3), and some 10 million children die annually from lack of basic necessities (3-4). Pursuing environmental purity by ignoring the poor is as much a nightmare as the converse.
Authors of biology textbooks claim that more than 99% of all the species that ever lived are now extinct (5-6). If they’re right, we shouldn’t expect to avoid that fate. But we don’t have to be our own worst enemies. By destroying natural habitat, polluting air and water, and driving wild species to extinction, all at record rates (7), we’ve created a new, artificial epoch (8) within which humans will change dramatically or perish forever. This Journal is about fostering that change. No action that resists this change can be considered healthy, no matter what the immediate impact on any individual, family, nation, or species. It’s the whole that matters, and we’re all in it together.
People tend to assume they can’t solve all problems, so they focus on what seems to matter most. But that’s a mistake for the whole matters most. Focusing on the parts is how we harm the whole with the best of intentions. We’ll work for the whole, or we’ll lose the parts. That’s the premise of holistic health: “First of all, do no harm” (Hippocrates).
This venerable concept was buried beneath the spectacular success of vaccines and antibiotics. No one cared that vaccines removed the test of reproductive fitness, or that antibiotics cultivated resistant germs. But we’re all learning to care now, for together, vaccines and antibiotics make people ever weaker and germs ever stronger. That’s a prescription for extinction. It’s a bio-version of the inconvenient truth: Prosperity comes at the cost of our habitat (9).
When people think about health, they usually imagine normal physiology and biochemistry. But that’s shortsighted. “No man is an island” (10). No woman, family, nation, or species is either. We’re all each other’s keepers (Gen 4:9). But that’s not the perspective that’s taught in school or manifested in capitalistic culture. Holistic health is about correcting this error. The family that matters is the one we all belong to, and this Journal is about building that family.
1) Goode S. 2011, Foodshare hits goal, 19,000 turkeys donated. Hartford Courant, November 23, B1
2) Hsu T. 2011, $150 for a turkey? Americans say yes. Hartford Courant, November 24, A12.
3) World Food Programme, 2012: http://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats
4) Black R., Morris S., Bryce J. 2003, Where and why are 10 million children dying every year? Lancet 361: 2226-34.
5) Miller K. R., Levine J. 2001, Biology, Teacher’s Edition, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River N. J. p. 417.
6) Belk C., Borden V. 2007, Biology Science for Life With Physiology, 2nd Edition, Pearson Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, N.J. p. 360.
7) Wilson E. 1992, The Diversity of Life, Norton, N.Y. p. 253-280.
8) Vince, G. 2011, An epoch debate, Science 334: 32-38.
9) Gore A. 2006, An Inconvenient Truth (documentary film).
10) Donne J. Meditation XVII.
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